As any TV viewer who watches the afternoon shock shows knows, things can get pretty rank when Oprah, Geraldo, Maury, Montel and the rest of the posse climb aboard their steeds.
For instance, it looked as if the local fire department would have to be summoned yesterday when a mother and her 14-year-old daughter tried to explain how beneficial it was for both of them to frequent a male strip joint together. The audience hardly agreed.
However, many of the shows often turn out to be informative and entertaining and even thought-provoking as the "Montel Williams Show" does today (Channel 2, 3 p.m.)
It's the extended version of Williams' interview with Mike Tyson in an Indiana prison, which has been showing on Showtime for a week, and it attempts to answer the question: Should the former heavyweight champion be granted a new trial on his conviction for rape in 1991?
Tyson has said the only reason he granted Williams permission for an exclusive interview is he's seen the show and considered the host to be very fair. Without doubt, Montel lives up to the billing.
It's the panel of "experts" who make the show worth watching (or taping) as they bring insight to a series of facts and claims pretty well known to the public.
Nat Dershowitz is the attorney brother of the high-profile law professor Alan Dershowitz, who has been beating the drums for a retrial for about a year. Gloria Allred, an attorney who feels the pending appeal should be turned down, does no worse than a standoff against him.
Of neutral bent, at least at the start, are Andy Kerr, a law professor from Indiana University who attended every session of the original trial, and Mark Shaw, a man who has authored a book about the case entitled "Down For The Count."
Dershowitz's arguments are old hat: the exclusion of three defense witnesses who saw Tyson and Desiree Washington in a limousine immediately prior to their entering a hotel. A charge that the charge of Judge Patricia Gifford to the jury was confusing. The fact that the prosecutor got to choose the judge, "which doesn't happen anywhere else." Claims that Washington lied when she testified she had not engaged a lawyer to handle any ancillary rights that might stem from any civil actions that might follow.
A point Allred hammers across is why all of a sudden "Tyson's words are being valued and Desiree's aren't when he was found guilty of rape and two other charges of deviant sexual behavior?"
To constant charges that the trial held early last year wasn't fair because the judge kept information from the jury, neutral professor Kerr answered that it was in his judgment an error. But a review of the stories of the witnesses, since made known, was inconsequential to Tyson's case.
Without taking sides, author Shaw said he set out writing his book to dispel all rumors and false claims that have long been such a part of this case.
For instance, the Dershowitzes have been yelling for months that the prosecutor (Greg Garrison) got to pick the trial judge, but that the original defense lawyer (Vincent Fuller) could have appealed it but didn't.
While Shaw cited numerous instances to support his theory that Tyson didn't get a fair trial, Allred agreed that the case was botched by the defense but "Tyson, with all his money, could have hired any attorney he wanted."
Her voice rising nearly an octave with each sentence, she continued, "Mike Tyson lost in a courtroom and now he wants to go to the court of public opinion where no one swears to things under oath and no one is held to the laws of perjury."
To Dershowitz's claim that the prior history of Washington should be scrutinized, Allred countered that "Desiree should not be put on trial in this [public] manner, false accusations being put down as fact.
For instance, it is Shaw who points out that Alan Dershowitz described Washington as "a money-grubbing gold digger who's a liar to boot" -- on national TV, no less.
While the trial was going on in Indianapolis, Tyson was facing six civil suits in four states brought by women who thought Mike took liberties with them. But the prosecution didn't push that.
The end result of the lively hour is that a 900-number is provided for viewers to vote yes or no on the question of Tyson getting a new trial, and the panelists voting 3-1 that the appeal should be granted.
Included on the show was going to be a conversation Williams had with a high school friend of Washington's who claims Desiree has cried "rape" before. The host left it to his panel whether it should be shown and they voted it down, 3-1.
Yes, Montel is fair, as advertised, but he did say that the interview would be retained for possible future showing. After all, ratings are ratings.